Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO, displayed new data proving that his company’s vaccine remains effective in battling new coronavirus variants. Still, he sees a long road ahead in the war against the pandemic.
Moderna’s study showed “protective” immune responses to both the U.K. and South African variants. However, Bancel does expect the necessity for ongoing booster shots to protect against mutations that can propagate other variants of SARS-Cov-2, the virus behind the global COVID-19 outbreak.
In a recent Yahoo Finance Live interview, Bancel said that he believes SARS-Cov-2 will stay with us forever.
“We’re going to have to have boosts adapted to a virus, like we have for flu. It’s the same thing, they are both mRNA viruses, and we’re going to have to live with it forever,” Bancel said.
The BioTech company announced that they are beginning a test of an additional booster dose of its vaccine. This is a cautionary test to strengthen the immune response against emerging strains potentially.
Bancel did note that the original two-dose vaccine preserved a protective response against the South African strain. Relative to prior variants, its neutralizing antibodies diminished six-fold.
The vaccine still delivered a better immune response relative to what would be expected in patients contracting COVID-19. The company downplayed doubts that its vaccine would become ineffective against the newer strains.
What the Future Holds
Looking into the future, Bancel emphasized the importance of the booster shot dose, considering production capacity constraints already being stretched thin due to the rollout of the two-dose vaccine.
“The big question with the boost is going to be the dose,” he said. “Do you need 25 or 50 or 100 micrograms? The current product that is authorized by the FDA is 100 micrograms, twice: A prime and a boost.”
Bancel reaffirmed Moderna’s original goal of delivering 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by March. Although, studies show that booster dosing may make it more difficult to keep ahead of future variants.
“If a dose was 50 or 25 micrograms, which is possible because your immune system is already prepared, you might not need to have a big increase of capacity,” he said.
There are several factors to consider when thinking about the pandemic’s future, including the slow rollout of vaccines and the timing of other vaccine approvals.
The Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate could become available very soon. Additionally, Bancel said another vaccine candidate led by Moderna and Pfizer is joining the effort and might help shift his company’s main focus towards boosters for dangerous future variants.
“I hope the Johnson & Johnson vaccine [comes] soon,” he said, adding that Moderna’s mRNA vaccine technology has had a quicker process of approval than some others.
“Some technologies will not be able to go fast enough. Think about it, some of the older technology they’re quoting, they have said that they won’t have a vaccine until the end of the year,” Bancel said.
It was recently observed by Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, that the virus will likely continue spreading and mutating for quite some time while vaccine doses are being distributed. So, controlling the virus is the first step, but we are quite far from completely wiping it out.
“I don’t believe we should start setting elimination or eradication of this virus as the bar for success,” Bancel told Yahoo Finance. “The bar for success is reducing the capacity of this virus to kill, to put people in hospital, to destroy our economic (and) social lives.”